I make a big deal out of Christmas. It was a big deal growing up and as a parent I’ve made it a big deal for my kids. I can’t honestly say that the traditions mean as much to them as they always have to me, but I put blinders on and go through my annual routines, regardless of what anyone thinks.
There WILL be the same Christmas prayer at Christmas dinner that I’ve been reciting for 40 years.
My boys have come to accept this.
This year presented a challenge for Mr. Christmas, though. A sinister robbery took place where all of their presents were stolen from my car. Before, your heart sinks, let me tell you that there is good news! It was the nicest Christmas I can remember having in a long time.
My boys were to spend Christmas Eve in Florida with their mother, but my eldest, Chris, who is 15, decided to stay in Iowa so that he could be with Dad. He is a young man now and we were able to talk in ways that we can’t when his 10 year old brother is about. We both fell asleep one afternoon on the couch watching a bowl game and I woke up to find his head on my shoulder. I don’t know how long it’s been since that has happened.
Because of my traditions, I keep all but a couple of presents hidden until Christmas. Most are at my mother’s house, where my brothers send gifts, as well. I also pick up the bigger presents that day so that no searches of my house can uncover them. On this particular Christmas Eve, I stopped by the store to get a special gift and gathered the rest of the presents into the back of my car to take to my house.
First, though, I wanted to check in at work and I parked in our company parking lot, door locked, for all of about 10 minutes. When I came back out, my rear window was broken and all of the presents were gone.
What a horrible feeling. Surreal, actually. Could this be a joke? How could this happen in the middle of the day in a company parking lot?
Where you work is almost like where you live; it is private; secure; a place you trust. And who would do this on Christmas Eve?
All of those questions transpired in a millisecond, however, because the overwhelming thought that went through my head was: “Oh, no! My boys!”
The police came, pictures were taken, a report was filed, arrangements were made to get my window fixed…and I drove home.
Chris was watching television when I got there and I told him straight up.
“Son, our Christmas presents were stolen.”
He knew immediately that I wasn’t joking. I took him outside to see the car and he said, “It’s okay, Dad. We’re going to be fine.”
Hang on! Isn’t that how I’m supposed to be comforting HIM?
Not one to be defeated by life’s misfortunes, I decided to post this experience on Facebook. I wasn’t looking for attention; I wanted the vast potential of social media to possibly corner the thieves. Maybe someone, I thought, would notice their neighbor coming home with a car load of suspicious gifts. What did I have to lose?
My post was seen by local news and I got a call asking if they could come over to do a story. I didn’t hesitate to say “yes” because I thought the more coverage, the greater the possibility that someone could be discovered. Olivia Mancino, the one-person band from KWWL, was at our doorstep in minutes.
The camera was set when Olivia turned to me and said, “I think Chris is the story here. I’ll ask you, Gary, what happened, but Chris’ feelings are the real story.”
She was right. Chris hesitated at first because attention was not what he got up for on that particular day, but he soon acquiesced. A microphone was attached and the camera rolled.
“How did you feel when your Dad told you your Christmas presents had been stolen?” asked Olivia.
“My first thought was, ‘Is my Dad going to be alright?’ He tries to make everything perfect for us on Christmas and I worried if he was going to be okay.”
Off camera, Dad is starting to cry.
“I don’t need anything,” he continued, “I’m loved by two families and that’s my Christmas gift. I hope wherever our presents are that they are being enjoyed by kids who need them.”
He wasn’t “playing” for the camera or for some pseudo-gratification from saying exactly the most perfect thing; he was completely sincere. I knew it. Olivia knew it. Everyone who saw the broadcast knew it.
Chris reminded me, and a lot of others, of the meaning of Christmas. My tears were now tears of joy. I felt like George Bailey as friends called, sent messages, and even offered gifts for my boys.
My younger brother’s family came up from Des Moines and, along with my mother, Chris and I had a joyful celebration. And then, in the early afternoon on Christmas Day, we were joined by my youngest son, Alex, back from Florida.
I read the Christmas prayer as I always do and we dined, toasting the love that is so often taken for granted, but is the foundation of our lives. We didn’t need a thing because we had everything.
In the span of 24 hours the darker side of the human experience was revealed but eclipsed by the brightness of the human spirit.
There are people who have fallen into desperation and the rules of civility are meaningless to them, but we must, as my son’s generous nature proclaimed, open our hearts to them, as well.
And there are people who will lend a hand and offer their coat whenever a friend, or even a stranger, is in need.
My boys and I have been blessed.